Updated: Feb 18
The first one has actually gone a few days ago, the next one is tomorrow and the last one will be in about two weeks' time. If I get one year older on each birthday, how old am I now? I had this question for a while when I was a child. Let me explain to you here.
International Calendar and the Chinese calendar
In China, we have two calendars, the international calendar, we call it 新曆 (san1 lik6) and the Chinese traditional calendar 中國舊曆 (zung1 gwok3 gau6 lik6), which also call Lunar calendar 農曆 (nung4 lik6). The dates on the Lunar calendar are not always the same date as on the international calendar. For example, if I was born on the 1st of January on the Lunar calendar, it could be on 26th of January on the international calendar. Therefore, I would celebrate my birthday twice according to these two calendars.
My parents and grandparents used to celebrate my birthday according to the Lunar calendar. I celebrate my other birthday with my friends and classmates. It’s actually nice because I would have two birthday parties and birthday cakes. The celebration activities could be more varied. Some activities I would only do with my family, and others I would only do with my friends.
The family tradition of birthday celebration
Here I would like to share a little family birthday tradition. My grandmother used to prepare a big meal including a whole chicken on the table. She usually chopped up the chicken into small pieces except for one drumstick, and that’s for the birthday person. I have got two brothers and we all love chicken. I think my grandmother did that just to make the birthday person feel special. So, every year, we take turns having the whole chicken drumstick. Besides food, my grandmother used to give the birthday person a red envelope containing cash, we call it 利是 (lei6 si6). She would wish us good luck in school, good health, and all our dreams come true.
The 'Human Day'
Now how about the third birthday? It’s on the 7th of January 初七 (co1 cat1 ) on the Lunar calendar. This day is called ‘Human Day’人日 (jan4 jat6). On this day, everyone has a birthday. Here is the story. Mother 女媧 (neoi5 wo1) created the World in ten days. From the first day of Chinese New Year, she created one animal a day for the first six days. They are chickens, dogs, pigs, goats, oxen and horses. On the seventh day, she created humans. Therefore, we celebrate the creation of humans on the 7th day of Chinese New Year. On the rest of the days, she created valleys, the sky and the land.
Celebrations with food
To celebrate Human Day, some people cook vegetable soup with seven types of vegetables and wish for the best harvest in the coming year. The soup is called 七寶羹 (cat1 bou2 gang1). Some people eat noodles and wish for a longer lifespan. People from South China eat seafood with their family at a big table. They cook fish and other seafood and place them together on a big dish to share. They pick up the food high with chopsticks and wish for better luck in the coming year.
How do students celebrate the 'Human Day'
Students who eat rice porridge with lean pork, liver and pork intestines wish for good luck with their exams. Here is the story. A child was born in a small village in Guangzhou 廣州 (gwong2 zau1). It is one of the biggest provinces in South China. At the age of seven, he sold vegetables in the market for a living. He loves reading, but his family could not afford the schooling cost. One day, he didn’t sell any vegetables. He was so hungry and sat down in front of a butcher. The butcher felt bad for him. He bought some vegetables from him and offered him a bowl of rice porridge made with some leftover pork meat, pork liver and pork intestines. This boy was very grateful. He went back to the butcher every day to sell vegetables and have the best meal of the day.
This village boy reads books every day and shares Chinese literature from the books with other villagers. His name became famous as a talented child in the village. One day, a town governor visited the village and offered him an opportunity to study in school. Since then, he stopped selling vegetables and worked hard in school. Ten years later, he got the best grade on the national exam. He came back to his hometown and visited his old friend, the butcher. He had his childhood lunch once again, a bowl of rice porridge. To say thank you to the butcher, he named this dish ‘Champion rice porridge’ 狀元及第粥 (zong6 jyun4 kap6 dai6 zuk1). I really love this story because it shows the kindness of human nature.
In tradition, the women make decorations in the shape of humans using colour paper and cotton. They also use them to decorate their windows. In tradition, people also make hair decorations in the shape of flowers and give them to their friends and neighbours as gifts. I remember I received a hair decoration from a classmate in primary school.
Hiking is a very popular activity on Human Day. In ancient China, it is believed that the good weather on the Human Day gives a good year. People would be safe and sound in the coming year. In the modern generation, the best activity on a nice day is to get away from the busy city life and go hiking to have a relaxing day in the countryside.
The best tradition for me when I was a child is that the parents are generally more tolerant of their children’s behaviour on this day. As it is a human day, everyone pays respect to each other. The parents would not shout at the children. The justice would not execute any offenders. The boss would not give pressure on the workers on this day.
Well, different places have different traditions. I have mentioned only a few of them here. Tomorrow is my second birthday this year and I am going to meet some friends for hiking. I hope the weather would be as good as they said in the weather forecast. Here I wish everyone a wonderful Human Day and Happy Birthday!